Celebrating Purim, the Feast of Esther, March 4-5, 2015
Esther, the young Jewish girl who was chosen by Ahasuerus, King of Persia to become his new wife; since his other wife, Vashti, had been exiled and most likely executed when she refused to appear naked before the king’s guests, wearing only her crown. This occurred at a drinking feast that the king had prepared that would last a full 180 days with a separate feast for the women held by the queen. As the Book of Esther reveals that Esther was a young Jewish maiden being raised by her uncle, Mordecai, who instructed her that she was not to reveal her ethnic heritage when she appeared before the king. Esther, along with all of the other young girls that had been chosen to compete for the king’s marriage announcement went through a long process of preparation of baths, oils, lotions, perfumes; all of this being done with the hope to ready themselves for the night that they would spend with the king.
As the story progresses, Mordecai uncovers a plot by two assassins plotting to kill Ahasuerus; so he reports this to Esther who in turn informs the king. As the plot thickens, Haman who was of the lineage of Amalekites, and he therefore hated the Jews, had to honor Mordecai for his good deed. At first, Haman thought he was the one to be honored, and so made the reward very rich, only to find out that the king was speaking about Mordecai. Of course, because of his hatred for Jewish people, he sped up his plans to annihilate all of the Jews in Ahasuerus’ kingdom. Haman had “cast lots”, or “purim” so that all of the Jews in the kingdom would be executed on the 13th day of Adar. Haman’s plot became known to Mordecai, and so he asked Esther to intercede for the Jewish people before the king.
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
According to Persian law, no one could approach the king without a direct invitation. To do so was to risk imminent death, unless the king extended his scepter towards the uninvited; if the king did so, then the person could approach the king to make the request. Esther knew that if she went into the throne room without the personal invitation, though she was the queen, she was risking her life.
So in preparation, Esther requested that all of the Jewish people should fast for three days, including her maidservants; which after it was completed, she said,
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
Esther then invited her husband, the king, and her enemy, Haman to a feast. She makes a request that they come again the next day. It is at this second feast that she reveals that she is Jewish and it is revealed that it is this Haman who wants to kill her and her people through the decree that he wrote and had the king sign and seal it with his signet ring. Of course, the king is angry and leaves the room. Then Haman rises and leans over Esther’s couch where she is reclining to beg for his life; it is this scene that the king sees as he returns, and thinking that Haman is making inappropriate advances to his queen, the king issues Haman’s execution. Haman had built these very gallows that he had fully intended to hang Mordecai upon, and instead he is hung on it along with his family.
A new decree is issued by Mordecai, who has now been promoted to second in command; that all of the Jews could now defend themselves against any attackers. The first decree could not be rescinded, so the new one allowed for their self defense and subsequently the Jewish people won a great victory over their enemies.
The Feast of Purim will be celebrated this year on March 4-5, 2015 in commemoration of that great victory. As the story of Esther, or the Megillah is read, each time the name of Haman is spoken, which occurs 54 times, the people shake rattles, or stamp their feet to drown out the horrid name, so that his name is forever wiped out of history. There are many things that are done during this feast that today’s Jewish people do as part of the commemoration: they attend the public reading of the Megillah; they send gifts of food to friends; they give to charities for the poor; and the eat a festive meal.
It is always a good time to read the Book of Esther, because it reminds Jews and Christians that our God avenges us of anyone who has done us wrong and He makes it right. Amen.